Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Macfarlane (The Old Ways; Landmarks) continues to explore the connections between humans and landscape, this time revealing our complex relationship to what lies beneath. The quest takes the author to some extraordinary subterranean places, including Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, England; the Timavo River 1,000 feet underground in Slovenia and northeast Italy; the Paris catacombs; Greenland's Rasmussen Glacier; and a Finnish nuclear waste depository. Terrifying white-knuckle adventures are often followed by moments of exquisite relief, as the author emerges from darkness into light, getting "high on hue." Readers will be charmed by Macfarlane's genial relationships with his local guides and horrified by how far the dreck of the Anthropocene has penetrated into seemingly remote places. His fondness for unusual words makes the writing sparkle, as do his experiments with nonfiction form-Macfarlane works the "echoes, patterns, and connections" of his underworld subject the way a poet might, and, as a master prose stylist, he can describe a glacier calving with a long sentence that's both surprising and effective. VERDICT A sterling book by one of the most important nature writers working today.-Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Nature writer Macfarlane (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) expands readers' horizons while delving into the various "worlds beneath our feet" in an eye-opening, lyrical, and even moving exploration. His look at the network of roots below London's Epping Forest leads into a discussion of the recent discovery that trees share nutrients with neighboring trees that are ill or under stress, a finding consistent with new ideas about plant intelligence and a "wood wide web" of interconnected plant and fungal life. In another section, Macfarlane descends more than half a mile below the Yorkshire countryside to visit "a laboratory set into a band of translucent silver rock salt left behind by the evaporation of an epicontinental northern sea some 250 million years earlier," where a physicist is searching for proof of dark matter's existence. Here, too, Macfarlane makes counterintuitive concepts fully accessible while capturing the poetry beneath the science, describing the tangible world humans perceive "as mere mist and silk" in relation to dark matter. Perhaps most importantly, he places humanity's time on Earth in a geological context, revealing how relatively insignificant it is. Macfarlane's rich, evocative survey enables readers to view themselves "as part of a web... stretching over millions of years past and millions to come," and deepen their understanding of the planet. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In the astonishing, keen sequel to The Old Ways (2012), revered nature writer Macfarlane considers the disparate spaces humanity has used to shelter, yield, and dispose that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save. In three sections Seeing, Hiding, and Haunting and in vivid, rhythmic prose, Macfarlane describes a formidable array of mostly abhorred places, some underground. For example, one of the most complex, little-understood, and overlooked communication networks lies just underfoot as the roots of mighty trees and microscopic mycelia nourish and heal each other. Paris' labyrinth of catacombs and tunnels was created to cradle the dead, but it has become a lively city mirroring its above-ground sister. At the poles, glaciers are melting at an astounding rate, sounding an alarm few choose to hear. Underland masterfully and subtly argues the necessity of looking beyond our species and the Anthropocene the present era of cataclysmic change to dive into deep time and grasp the greater context of life on Earth. Humanity's past mistakes, thought long-buried, persistently reemerge, and Macfarlane urges us to confront these crucial realities. A powerful, epic journey for anyone wondering about the world below and all around us and, perhaps more important, for those who aren't.--Katharine Uhrich Copyright 2019 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
An exploration of the little-visited realms of the Earth, from deep caves to bunkers, trenches to Bronze Age burial chambers, courtesy of an accomplished Virgil.Macfarlane (The Lost Words, 2018, etc.), who has pretty well revived single-handedly the fine British tradition of literary natural history writing, can usually be found atop mountains. In his latest, he heads in the opposite direction, probing the depths of the Earth to find the places in which humans have invested considerable imaginative attention yet fear to tread. He opens with a cave network discovered in China's Chongqing province only a few years ago that "was found to possess its own weather system," with layers of dank cold mist that never see sunlight. From there, the author moves on to other places that require us to "go low," into places that humans usually venture only to hide thingstreasure, sacred texts, bodies. Now that many such places are making themselves known, exposed during construction excavations and unveiled by melting permafrost, "things that should have stayed buried are rising up unbidden"treasure sometimes, more often just bodies. All of this is occasion for Macfarlane, a gifted storyteller and poetic writer, to ponder what historians have called "deep time," the time that is measured in geological rather than human terms and against which the existence of our kind is but a blip. Even places well known or celebrated in antiquityfrom the underworld of The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Iron Age mines of the Mendip Hills of southwestern Englandare recent points on the map of that ancient landscape. As he moves from continent to continent, Macfarlane instructs us on how to see those places, laced with secrets and mysteries ("all taxonomies crumble, but fungi leave many of our fundamental categories in ruin"). Wherever he travels, he enhances our sense of wonder which, after all, is the whole point of storytelling.A treasure all its own. Anyone who cares to ponder the world beneath our feet will find this to be an essential text. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.